Feel like you haven’t had a proper summer holiday, but Christmas has left you strapped for cash?
Don’t despair – it’s not too late to squeeze in a break. And there are some incredible close-to-home options that won’t break the bank.
From wallet-friendly island escapes to road trip destinations with a wealth of free attractions and activities, here are five cheap and cheerful summer getaway ideas.
Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua
Anywhere else in the world, you’d pay hundreds – even thousands – a night to stay on a private island. But you can spend the night on Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua in Otago Harbour for $20.
As the name suggests, the 15-hectare island was previously used as a quarantine station, but these days it’s a public recreation reserve where visitors are welcome.
St Martin Lodge is the only accommodation on the island, and can sleep up to 30 people, in a combination of bunk and small bedrooms. It costs $20 per adult, or $50 for a family of two adults and two children.
Port to Port Cruises offers boat transfers from Port Chalmers. The 25-minute trip costs $30 return per adult.
New Plymouth is perfect North Island summer road trip destination. There are so many amazing things to do and see in this sunny city that won’t cost you a cent.
Time your trip around the TSB Festival of Lights, which this year runs until January 22. This free event sees Pukekura Park transformed into an after-dark wonderland of light installations.
Take the time to stroll along the Coastal Walkway, a 13km path which hugs the sea, while families will love the free Brooklands Zoo, home to everything from farmyard animals to cotton-top tamarins and squirrel monkeys.
Many are familiar with the wonders of Waiheke Island, but right beside it is a lesser-known island escape – Rotoroa Island, an 80-hectare sanctuary home to kiwi, takahē, and many more endangered native species.
There’s plenty to keep humans occupied, too. Follow a walking track or take a guided nature walk ($20 per person). You can also visit the museum to find out more about the island’s fascinating history (it was previously home to New Zealand’s first and longest-running addiction treatment centre). Or take your pick of four beautiful beaches, safe for swimming and snorkelling.
The 75-minute ferry ride will cost you $60 return. You can visit for the day, or stay overnight – there are a handful of holiday homes, including the communal Superintendent’s House, where you can stay for $50 per person. The island is blissfully undeveloped, so you’ll need to bring in your own provisions.
Vanished World Trail, Waitaki
For a South Island road trip, the Waitaki District is hard to beat.
Here you’ll find the Vanished World Trail – a self-guided drive that takes you to many spectacular locations, including a site where you can see ancient Māori rock art, the iconic Elephant Rocks, and the Valley of Whales – where bones that are tens of millions of years old have been found.
Pick up a map from the Vanished World Centre in Duntroon. The centre itself boasts an impressive selection of fossils, including a shark-toothed dolphin and the skull of a four-legged whale.
You can even head to the extraction room to hunt for your own fossils – the experience costs $10 for adults, and is free for kids.
Despite being smack-bang in the middle of Wellington Harbour, Mātiu/Somes Island feels a world away from the buzzing capital.
The 25-hectare island is run by the Department of Conservation as a pest-free scientific and historic reserve, home to kākāriki, tuatara, giant wētā and little blue penguins.
You can visit the historic lighthouse, or climb up to the anti-aircraft gun emplacements from World War II, enjoying the spectacular views over Wellington, Lower Hutt and the Eastern Bays. If you’ve struck a good day, you can even go for a swim at the main beach near the ferry wharf.
Until January 31, the ferry is half-price ($12.50 return for an adult). You can visit for the day or stay overnight, either camping ($15 per night for adults) or in one of two houses which can be booked by groups – either the Education House, which sleeps up to 12 from $220 per night, or the Caretakers Cottage, which sleeps up to nine from $200 per night.